There’s more than one good reason to put up with mosquitos.  Photo by Graham Day

by Scott Sadil

There’s a measure of rich cosmic irony in the fact that so much of the sport of fly fishing we do, from here to Timbuktu, is plagued, especially this time of year, by the persistent if not virulent presence of mosquitos. 

Either that or some sublime energy was already imprinted, way back when, with the foreknowledge of the damage we humans were going to inflict upon the planet and the rest of our friends in the natural world.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s what we get for founding a sport in the first place on the specious ruse of tying flies that, in many cases, resemble these same obnoxious critters for the pleasure of jerking fish, especially trout, out of their innocent lives as creatures that seem to have no other purpose, like goldfinches and desert wildflowers, than to make the world we live in more beautiful than if they didn’t exist.

Dang it:  The sages were right again:  There are no free lunches.

Nothing can overwhelm a fish camp quite like a bad case of mosquitos. Most everyone is well acquainted with the potent imagery inspired by mosquitos in Alaska, where, we’ve been told ad nauseum, the local populace uses chain link fence for bug netting; it keeps out the big mosquitos, and any ones smaller, that fit through the woven wire, are inconsequential by comparison.

Afloat with bones and bugs. Photo by Graham Day

Size, however, is rarely the issue. When I was a youngster, my father and I used to hike into remote meadow creeks trickling out of the west slope of the southern High Sierra, where planted brook trout inflated confidence in our rather rudimentary fly-fishing skills. And the mosquitos ate us alive.  My father proposed beekeeper veils and latex dish-washing gloves.  But we never seemed to remember just how bad things could get from one trip to the next – until, once again, we were run off the water, lovely meadow pools often boiling with rising trout.

Hit it right (or is it wrong?) in alpine meadows surrounding lakes, above tree line, in the Sierra and the sudden explosion of life, in all its manifold forms, could prove scary.  Nobody I knew carried more than a plastic tube tent.  Still, raised in the arid West, we were always boasting how lucky we were not to have mosquitos or other bugs like the poor souls from Michigan or Minnesota or any of those foreign states along the Gulf of Mexico or east of the Appalachians.

Only then, as surfers, we began visiting the tropics.

At some point I finally realized I had to get serious. Take, for instance, a recent trip to Central America.  When I’d considered signing up for the adventure, nobody said anything about mosquitos.  Then two weeks before takeoff, this particularly nasty detail was revealed.

I reviewed my arsenal for defense; no doubt I first needed to add a net, hung from the ceiling of my cabaña, for whatever bed I was provided.  The rest?  A fresh spray bottle of Permethrin for re-saturating my already dope-impregnated net jacket and pants. Fuel and repellent inserts for my Thermacell device.  Picaridin.  Lidocaine for after-bite care.  Three different strengths, from household to weapons grade, of Deet.

I wondered if I should up my intake of garlic.

Or stop showering immediately.

Cayo Frances Farm & Fly 
Cayo Frances Farm & Fly 

Did any of it help?  How would you know? I never wore shorts, never put on a swim suit to go swimming, never wore Crocs or Tevas without socks pulled up over the lower reaches of my pant legs.  Button-up shirt over my sun-shirt.  Buff and ball cap soaked twice-daily in 40% Deet. Mosquito coils smoking like Tiki torches.  The quiet buzz of burning butane whispering from my Thermacell.

Near the end of the week I heard my buddy Peter, who hadn’t gone to the same lengths I did to protect myself, talking on his phone with his wife.  He mentioned how bad the mosquitos were.

“She asked me if I was getting bit,” he reported, later, not quite rolling his eyes.

He stood, shirtless, in our cabaña, his torso covered in red welts, as though he had offered himself up for a couple of hours of target practice for a troop of BB-gun-wielding Cub Scouts.

“If I’d told her the truth, she would have tried to make me get tested for malaria.”

I took up a spray bottle and re-drenched the backs of my hands.

Gray’s Angling Editor Scott Sadil claims his skin, already irrevocably damaged by sun, grows irritated simply by the sight of mosquitos.